Most of us consuming a steady drip of digital video understand the life cycles of movies and TV. Movies get released on Blu-ray and DVD roughly three months after their theatrical release dates, and then they arrive at premium cable channels such as HBO or Showtime about six to nine months later. For TV series, the box sets usually show up in stores in late summer, one month before the fall season begins.
But so far, no tried-and-true formulas for streaming release dates have emerged for Netflix and Amazon Prime. The closest we've gotten to predictable behavior comes from individual deals that the two services made with cable channels like AMC, which generally dumps the previous season of “Mad Men,” “The Walking Dead” or the late and lamented “Breaking Bad” about two weeks before the next season launches, but other than those exclusivity deals, it's practically the Wild West. Your waiting time depends on how quickly your streaming hub of choice licenses the movie or series.
I've recently noticed that certain well-received documentaries are landing on Netflix at the same time the DVDs or Blu-rays arrive in stores: “Room 237,” the fascinating speculative documentary about Stanley Kubrick's “The Shining,” hit Netflix the same week a promo copy of the Blu-ray arrived at my office. And the rollout of “Salinger,” Shane Salerno's doc about J.D. Salinger, really surprised me — within weeks of receiving a note saying that “Salinger” was not opening in Oklahoma City, it showed up in the “Recently Added” queue on Netflix.
What started this train of thought was BBC America's breakout series “Orphan Black,” which has yet to arrive at either Prime or Netflix.
I fully expected a quick release of the 10-episode first season to one of the streamers shortly after it finished its spring-summer run, mainly because BBC America pushed recent series such as “The Fall” and “Copper” to Netflix in short order.
Also, there was that flurry of buzz after the Emmy Award nominees were announced this summer, mostly around the fact that “Orphan Black” star Tatiana Maslany, who plays seven distinct characters in the first season, was not nominated at all for what many critics call a transcendent performance. In reality, Maslany's multiple characters probably canceled each other out in voting — there should probably be a “clone clause” in future Emmy qualifications.
At any rate, I threw in the towel last week and bought “Orphan Black” on iTunes (so far, it's worth it), but now I'm wondering how long it will take before the streaming services settle into a regular and recognizable pattern, one that will allow people like me to wait a little longer before they succumb to their toddler-like impatience. So far, our knowledge of these things is limited to news releases or just a show's sudden appearance in “New Releases” or “Recently Added.”
It might take a while for this young format to become grounded in regular routines. Until that happens, we'll be logging in and hoping every time for unexpected presents.